Moment of silence honors Memphis sanitation workers on 50th anniversary

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- 50 years ago today, two Memphis Sanitation workers tried to take shelter from the rain in the back of a garbage truck, but because the truck wasn't maintained, the compacter malfunctioned.

It crushed and killed Echol Cole and Robert Walker.

Jack Walker said he was just a kid in school when he found out his dad died.

"It's stored in my head. I'll never forget until the end of time," he said.

Their deaths ignited anger. Memphis sanitation workers were fed up with poor working conditions, low pay and lack of benefits.

They wanted equal rights.

1,3000 sanitation workers went on strike.

It became pivotal in the civil rights movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis soon after to show his support. That`s when he was assassinated.

Thursday morning, dozens of current and former sanitation workers, civil rights activists, city, county and state lawmakers gathered near the spot Cole and Walker died.

County leaders gave Walker's son a key to Shelby County.

They also had a moment of silence as they reflected, prayed and promised to keep fighting for fair labor while confronting prejudice and poverty.

The ceremony was part of the I Am 2018 campaign through the COGIC church and the AFSCME union.

Their goal is to advance labor and civil rights through voter education and civic engagement.